Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 487
First Published: 2011
Series: 1st book in the Insurgent trilogy
Series Order to date : Divergent (2011), Insurgent (2012)
First Line: "There is ONE mirror in my house."

Synopsis:  Imagine if one choice decided your future.  Imagine a world where society is divided into five factions.  Each faction is very distinct and focuses on different virtues in the hope that a 'perfect' society will be formed.  

When teens turn sixteen they are given an aptitude test to help them determine which faction they are suited for.  Shortly after the testing they attend a Choosing Day celebration where they will decide which faction they will live in for the rest of their lives.

Sixteen year old Beatrice Prior has been raised in the very sedate and self-sacrificing faction of Abnegation.  When it's her turn to decide which faction she wants to live in she decides to reject her family's faction in favour of another.  She even goes so far as to change her name to Tris as she begins her brutal and challenging initiation into her new faction. 

Tris also learns that the aptitude test that she took before the Choosing ceremony indicated that she has very unique talents.  Talents that put her life at risk.  Tris is warned to keep her results secret for if certain people found out about her 'talents' they would want to destroy her.

My Thoughts:  After hearing a lot of good things about Divergent I finally picked it up after the kids and I ran into Chapters for some new reading material.  This is a fast-paced read that not only has loads of action scenes but also has interesting characters and keeps the reader intrigued about certain secrets which the author slowly reveals. 

The characters, for the most part, are quite interesting.  Tris is, by far, my favourite character.  She's a strong female lead character who goes from this meek girl who lives in a very strict and stifling society to a young woman who finds the strength needed to survive in her new faction totally separate from the family she left behind.  Tris does have her own personal issues but I like that the reader sees her work through them -- even if she tends to work through her issues faster than I would have thought possible.  She goes from meek to strong/brave rather quickly.  I would have loved to see her struggle a bit more with her new world/friends etc. 

I found the issue of Tris' divergency (I won't give away what exactly that means) one of the most interesting parts of the book and can't wait to see where Roth takes the storyline.  I think that Roth has just hit the tip of the iceberg and will explain more about what divergency entails in future books (or at least that's what I'm suspecting).  I'm also intrigued to learn more about Tris' family and how their involved with the overall plot.  

One character that didn't impress me was Four (the male lead charater, not to be confused with the numeral).  He was just OK for me.  Kind of blaw actually.  Their romance was a little hokey for my tastes but, then again, I've been married 'for evah' and if I was a 16 year old teen reading this I think I'd have a different view of their relationship.

As a dystopian read it's good.  Do I understand the different factions clearly?  Not really.  Their descriptions are short and kind of glossed over.  Can I picture a society in which people are divided so extremely.  No (thankfully) but I'm hoping that the other factions will be explained more as Tris has more interaction (I'm assuming) in future books.  All this aside, I did really enjoy this book for what it was.  A good, action-filled escapist read that has me looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Insurgent, to see what's in Tris' future.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Me, a Queen and a Cliff

This past weekend proved to be one of the most spectacularly hot 'May Two-Four' weekends that I can remember.  For those non-Canucks out there, 'May 2-4' is also known as Queen Victoria's birthday.  Even though the old gal has been dead since 1901 we here in Canada still celebrate her inspiring life. 

Typically Canadians celebrate by having a three day weekend filled with overeating at BBQs, partaking in recreational drinking (in various degrees) and camping or hitting the cottage.  Now that I'm older (with small humans in tow) we tend to do lots of family stuff to celebrate the first long weekend of the summer.

We started off the weekend by Missy Moo and I going to see The Sound of Music at a local theatre with my parents.  Nothing is better than getting goosebumps while the Mother Abbess sings "Climb Every Mountain".  Nothing ... except if Julie Andrews was sitting beside me singing along.  That would be truly awesome.  But I digress ....  The play was awesmazing (to use my 10 year old's favourite term). 

Since the theatre is only a 5 minute drive to my parents' cottage we stayed the night so that we could have more time for fun in the sun on Saturday (it was a glorious 29C all weekend!!) which included swimming (for some of us) as well as jet skiing.  Even me, the uber chicken, went a whopping 54 miles/hour on the jet ski.  At that speed I felt like I had a Joan Rivers face lift due to the wind force but I had fun nonetheless.  I enjoyed proving to 8 year old Missy Moo that Mom still has game.  A risk taker, I am not.

This leads me to another point.  With my Type A tendencies (I love order, my brain always jumps to the 'what-ifs' etc) I tend to, at times, feel like the not fun parent.  Don't get me wrong, I'm hilarious and fun ... it's just in a more orderly and safe way.  It's how I'm wired. 

Case in point.  Yesterday we packed the kids and the pooch and had a nice leisurely drive to a beautiful conservation area that has two waterfalls and gorgeous trails along a very tall escarpment.  See, beautiful, right?!?

My first reaction at seeing how precariously close to the edge some of the paths went?  'You want me to climb up that??  Oh heck, no'.  See, heights and I don't mix.  Heights and I had an issue with each other in a belfry in Holland and haven't been on good terms ever since.  Long story.  I hate heights with a passion and I'm pretty sure heights feel the same way about me. 

Picture it if you will ... there we were hiking in all our glory when the path suddenly veers towards the edge of the cliff.  I'm talking it goes right along the edge which then plummets pretty much straight down for about 100+ feet.  Brad walks it with ease, my three kids walked, ran and skipped along the path like little mountain goats.  Even the dog didn't have a care in the world (although, truth be told, he is afraid of open stairs so I take a small comfort in the fact that at least he has a phobia).  Then there was me.  El Mucho Wussy.  I was half way across the narrowest part of the path when my brain kicked in and shouted "What in the name of all that is good and holy are you DOING?!?  You could fall off and DIE!".  That's when my legs decided to stop right then and there.  Nice.  Now I'm stuck in the middle of said dangerous path.  It's times like these when my brain goes in crazy directions.  You know what the first thought was that popped into my head at that moment?!?  "THIS is why Brad and I can't try out for The Amazing Race.  We'd never win because of my fear of heights."  I kid you not.  That's what I thought.  It wasn't a proud or even enlightened moment.  Immediately after that thought I took a deep breath, put my big girl panties on and continued on (rather quickly) to the end of the precarious path and lived to tell the tale.

After this little snafoo we went on our merry way until about 5 minutes later (can I catch a break PLEASE??) when we're taking in the view and I spy, a mere 20 feet away, a rather large raccoon staring at us.  

Again, my first Type A thought was ... RABIES!  Rabies gonna get my babies!!  Raccoons are supposed to be nocturnal, aren't they?  If so, this dude is probably full of rabies and wanting to munch on my sweet kids.  See, all my edumacation just goes out the door and I don't think clearly when something jars my lovely plans.  What did Brad do?  He brought the kids over, not close but where they could see the creature, to take a peek at it.  He looks at it as a cool learning experience and I look at it as a future of needles in the stomach for my babies.  Perhaps I need to take a chill pill?  Perhaps three or four.

It's times like that when I feel a little like a dud and a 'not fun' parent.  I'm a girl who loves order.  I feel better when things are planned.  Was I totally organized with a pack for each person including water and snacks for the hike?  You betcha.  Were we on the road on time for our day of fun.  Yes, yes we were.  Was there a delicious picnic packed complete with a homemade dessert?  Of course!  That's because I love planning stuff.  I've come to the conclusion that I'm just not a risk taking kinda gal.  Scaling cliffs.  Not my thing.  Doing crafts, playing games, reading, biking, swimming, cooking ... totally my thing.  Worrying about not being 'fun enough'?  Sadly, also my thing.   I guess I'm fun in a different, fairly planned, non-life threatening kind of way.  Am I goofy?  Totally.  Am I funny?  Hysterical!  Am I humble.  Apparently not.

Edited May 23/12: I forgot to add something to the original post.  Do you watch "Modern Family"?  It is one of my favourite shows (right up there with Big Bang Theory).  If you do watch Modern Family, you know Claire Dunphy (that's her below with her hubby Phil).  She's the mom with three kids on the show who is the epitome of the Type A 'need to be perfect, follow the rules' kinda of mom.  She is my sister from anotha mista.  I can totally relate to Claire's need for order and being a great mom.   Don't get me wrong, I'm not nearly as anal/ controlling (I think) as she is but I do see a similarity between us.  I'm just hoping that our family is as funny as hers.  :)

So I guess I come away from this experience with this thought -- I'm thankful that Brad and my parenting styles compliment each other so well.  He's much more of the risk taker "don't overthink it" kind of parent while I pack a mean picnic and know all of the words to The Sound of Music and can totally kick butt at Wii Dance Party.  And while I may cringe at the thought of going on a roller coaster with Boy 1 this summer at Canada's Wonderland (he'll probably have to drag me onto it) and will probably drive safe and relatively slow on the go-cart course, I can take comfort in the fact that my kids know that I'll do my best to try new things whenever I can.  Will we have fun together and giggle a whole lot along the way?  Definitely.  Will there be heights involved.  No -- you can take that to the bank.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Deal Breaker

Author: Harlan Coben
Type: Hardcover
Genre: Suspense
Pages: 368
First Published: 1995
Series: 1st book in the Myron Bolitar series
Series Order:
  1. Deal Breaker
  2. Dropshot
  3. Fade Away
  4. Back Spin
  5. One False Move
  6. The Final Detail
  7. Darkest Fear
  8. Promise Me (for my review of this book please click here)
  9. Long Lost
  10. Live Wire
First Line: "Otto Burke, the Wizard of Schmooze, raised his game another level."

Synopsis: Myron Bolitar is a former NBA player whose career in the big leagues was suddenly cut short due to a serious knee injury.  Left without a future in basketball, Myron joined the FBI where he and his friend Win quickly rose to the top of their game and completed several black-ops missions.  Now Myron is embarking on yet another career, that of a sports agent. 

Myron represents a very popular young football player named Christian Steele.  A Heisman trophy winner, Christian has a bright future ahead of him.  When Christian unexpectedly receives a racy magazine featuring a picture of his college sweetheart who has been missing for over a year he turns to Myron for help.  Is the girl still alive or is someone just manipulating Christian's future?  Myron's involvement in case is sealed when he learns that the missing girl is the younger sister of his own college sweetheart - a woman he never got over. 

My Thoughts:  I have to start this review by coming clean.  In my love of all things bookish I kind of forgot to write this review.  I got so excited by all the books I had to read that I just kept reading and not reviewing.  Bad book reviewer.  I read "Deal Breaker" 6 weeks ago so I'm digging into the depths of my memory (and the notes that I made while reading) to bring you this review.  The book is still securely in my cranium which should prove that I enjoyed this book.

A little while ago I read "Promise Me" (the 8th book in the Bolitar series) and really enjoyed it.  Not one to read a series out of order (Type A!!!) I figured I'd start from the beginning of the series.  "Deal Breaker" is a good start to the series and helps introduce the reader to Myron and his cronies, Win and Esperanza, so that we can get a better idea of where they all started.

Myron is a great main character.  He's strong, but not overly tough.  He's smart but also relies on his collegues to help him out.  He also hides the fact that he cares so much about his friends and clients with his wonderfully sarcastic tongue.  He's self-deprecating in a truly humourous way that I adore.  Is he realistically portrayed?  Weeelll, maybe not.  This guy must have eaten a lot of Wheaties because he's done it all in his 30+ years.  Not only was he in the NBA but he also worked for the FBI, has a law degree, is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and is a sports agent.  Phew!  But he does balance this all out by .... still living with his parents.  Does this little foray into a slightly unbelievable realm bother me?  No.  Myron still comes off as a likeable guy that you could totally imagine hanging out with.  Win?  Well, apart from me picturing him looking like Niles Crane (from Frasier fame) I love the fact that his looks are deceiving to ne'er-do-wells and he routinely kicks some major butt.  Bottom line?  If you mess with this nerd you'll live to regret it.  He brings a lot of comic relief with his witty remarks and is more than a little scary (let's say I wouldn't want to take a peek into his mind) but I really like his relationship with Myron.

I will admit that I enjoyed "Promise Me" more but I think that was because the characters were already well defined and they had more chemistry/banter between them.  As one would expect, Coben is using this first book to lay the ground work for the characters (as well as tell a good mystery) so I look forward to seeing how the characters grow in future books.

As for the mystery portion of the book?  It was a solid read - albeit the ending was a little obvious to me.  It has a lighter feel to it than other Coben suspense books.  Think of it as "Mystery-Light" -- still enjoyable but a little less satisfying. ;)  Regardless of the "mystery-caloric" content I enjoyed this book and can't wait to read more about Myron, Win and Esperanza.

I recommend this series.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Moist Rhubarb Cake

I hope everyone is having a spectacular weekend so far!  We've had gorgeous weather here -- the kind of weather that's perfect for having a garage sale! Yup, time to sell our crap gently used and much loved items from our home.  Our stuff mustn't have been too bad since we made a whopping $385!!  Oh ya baby. 

How did we do it?  We got our kids on board!  Back in the winter we had the kids help us clean out the pit of utter dispair that is our basement.  We have a huge basement but it slowly got filled with toys.  It literally looked like ToysRus threw up all over the place ... and then threw up again.  We had games, puzzles, Playmobile, naked Cabbage Patch dolls, plastic food, Mr Potato Head appendages strewn all over the floor, dress up clothes ... you name it, we had it.  There were toys that I know my kids haven't played with for years.  Why were we hanging onto this stuff?  We're sentimental and lazy.  A bad combo if ever there was one.

Brad and I knew we had to organize the basement but we are more than just pretty faces.  We quickly realized that in order to get the kids to part with their stuff (we were more than happy to sell our own stuff) they had to agree to it.  How did we entice them?  With the promise of a trip to Great Wolf Lodge with the proceeds of our sale!  Once they knew that trip was on the proverbial table they were all for selling some of their stuff.  We're talking about Zhu Zhu pets, a play kitchen, books, old bikes!!  It's all gone from m'house!!  We all couldn't be happier.

Garage sales aren't the only thing that we did this past week.  I also got baking again!! With the stress of work and just being plain tired I haven't been in the mood to bake.  But when I was offered a bunch of 'just picked' rhubarb I had to jump at the offer.  Who doesn't thankfully accept fresh rhubarb?!?!  No one, that's who.  There's something awesome about rhubarb that I just adore. Bake it into a cake, pie, muffin, cobbler, crisp and I'm in heaven.  This cake was delish, my friends!  Thanks go to Marian for the rhubarb donation that inspired this cake!

Unfortunately, I cannot rely on my own rhubarb at the current moment to provide for my rhubarb addiction -- I have but a few spindly pathetic stalks.  This is definitely not true for Marian's plant.  She gave me enough rhubarb to make this cake .... and put away eleven cups in my freezer.  It's May here people!!  In Canada!!!  Harvesting any sort of veg/fruit is unheard of!!

Let's just say that I was so excited to receive this gift of the 'barb that I spent my Tuesday night chopping up said rhubarb and then was baking this cake at 10pm.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.  It's got a great texture and is wonderfully moist.  The cinnamon/nutmeg topping mustn't be missed either.  It adds a nice, light spiciness to the cake.  This cake was perfect as a snack cake for the kids lunches and, truth be told, my lunch too.  Delicious!  With my stockpile of rhubarb in my freezer I will definitely be making this cake again soon!

Moist Rhubarb Cake

Yield: one 9x13-inch pan

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (see note below)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup white flour
2 cups raw, sliced rhubarb (Update - May 15, 2012 -- I've increased the rhubarb to 2 cups from 1 3/4 cups due to personal preference)

3 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375F.  Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until smooth.  Add egg and salt.  Stir in buttermilk, sour cream and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, blend together the flour, baking soda and baking powder.  Mix and add to the butter mixture.  Gently fold in the rhubarb.  Pour (batter will be very thick) batter into the prepared pan.

Combine white sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl.  Sprinkle over batter.  Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Note: I never buy real buttermilk.  Instead, I add white vinegar to 1% milk (1 tbsp of vinegar for every 1 cup of milk).  Let it sit for 5-10 minutes and voila! An easy (and slightly chunky) substitute for buttermilk.  Don't let the wee chunkies scare you. 

Tip: This recipe could easily be made into muffins.  Just decrease the baking time (try 15-20 minutes at 375F).

Note: If you have a moment I'd love it if you'd consider Pinning this blog post to your Pinterest account.  Just hover your cursor over the picture above (or any picture in any of my future posts) and a 'Pin It' button will appear {just like magic!}.  Click on the 'Pin It' button and share this post with all of your Pinterest peeps!  By pinning you'll also have an easy way to find your way back here!  If you'd like to follow me on Pinterest you can find me HERE.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Nutella Buttercream Frosting

I know what you're thinking.  WHY is the Baking Bookworm, mother of a peanut allergic child, posting a recipe for a nutty frosting?!?!  Well, a couple of months ago we got the great news that Boy 1 can now, after 9 years and the go-ahead from his allergist, eat certain tree nuts (as long as they are produced faaaaar away from peanuts).  Yay!  Which nut was at the top of Boy 1's list to test for?!?  The mighty hazelnut because he desperately wanted to try Nutella.  Needless to say, Boy 1 has been enjoying Nutella a fair bit lately because, thankfully, its made in a peanut-free facility.

Here's a little back story for this recipe: This past weekend my kids and I were invited to go out to my parents' cottage to supp with my parents, aunt and uncles.  Brad was already out at the cottage with my dad getting the cottage ready for summer.  It was one gloriously beautiful day at the cottage -- the sun was shining, the dogs were running around, kids were unplugged from gadgets, great conversations with the extended family ... Brad even got the kids out on the jetskiis (even though the lake was frigid!!).  A perfect day.

Now, there's one thing you should know about my family.  We like to eat ... a lot and well.  Nothing bonds my family more than a huge meal.  My mom is usually the main contributor for suppers but she was on her way to the cottage from visiting one of my sisters so my Dad was the big kahuna in the kitchen.  My dad knows his way around a kitchen and usually just opens the fridge, throws stuff together and voila!  Supper is made and delish. 

Saturday night he and Brad outdid themselves by preparing a truly delicious supper which included a fantastic Blue Cheese & Bacon Wedge Salad, beef tenderloin steaks with crumbles of blue cheese on top, double baked potatoes and green beans.  Did I not say that we like to eat well?  This meal was off-the-charts good.  I got my blue cheese quota for the weekend and the beef steaks were melt-in-your-mouth 'oh m'gravy' tender.  There is simply nothing better than melted blue cheese on a tender beef tenderloin steak.  Nothing. The end.  Even Boy 1, lover of all manner of edible beasts, tried blue cheese on his salad in order to eat this steak. {Note: He hasn't been converted to a blue cheese lover and said no to blue cheese on his steak but has learned a valuable lesson -- in order to get the steak sometimes you have to eat mold.}

Anyway, never one to go to a supper empty handed I need to contribute something to the meal.  What did I bring?  My Garlic and Herb Topped Rosemary Bread {find that recipe HERE}  -- I seriously need an intervention when it comes to this carb!!! -- as well as dessert.  Boy 1 (an up and coming baker in his own right) baked a pan of brownies so I was only in charge of frosting them.  Knowing that Boy 1 has been crushing on Nutella lately I decided to add it into a buttercream frosting.  Oh ya.  It was as good as it sounds.  A slight hazelnut flavour combined with chocolate was a lovely way to end a meal that was one of the best I've had in a long time. 

Great conversation with my uncles and aunt, glorious food in m'belly, happy kids ... it was a great way to herald in summer!!

1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 to 1 cup Nutella (depending on how nutty you feel)
3 cups icing sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp milk

In a medium bowl, combine the softened butter and Nutella until smooth.  Slowly add the sifted icing sugar.  Blend well.

Add salt, vanilla and 1 tbsp of milk.  Mix well.  Add additional tablespoons of milk until you get the consistency that you desire.  We like to have our frosting  for brownies on the thicker side so 3 tbsp was enough for us.

Refrigerate frosted brownies/cupcakes and any leftover frosting.

Note: the brownie recipe that was used in the above picture is from my Black Forest Brownie recipe.  Click here to find that recipe.

Yield: generously frost a 9x13-inch pan of brownies or 24 cupcakes (make the frosting thinner for cupcakes if you'd like to pipe it on).

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Rebel Heiress

Author: Fiona Mountain
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Paperback
Also published under the title: Lady of the Butterflies
Pages: 544
Published: July 2010
First Line: "They say I'm mad, and perhaps it's true."

Synopsis:  Rebel Heiress is the story of Eleanor Glanville, a female entomologist (someone who studies insects) who lived in the late 1600's in England.  Eleanor was a petite girl who suddenly loses her mother and sister from the ague.  She was raised by her father who was one of Cromwell's Puritan nobleman at their estate Tickenham Court deep in the moors of Somerset.  Though she led a sheltered and austere life, her father instilled in her a love of education.  Her father, though strict with Eleanor, went against popular beliefs that women were not to be educated.  It's from this love of science that Eleanor's fascination with butterflies began.  Unfortunately, Eleanor's love of nature, and specifically entomology, causes the townspeople to ridicule Eleanor.  Even worse, butterflies were closely linked with witchcraft in those times which made Eleanor's path even more precarious.

When Eleanor's father dies she is left with his estate as well the responsibility to care for the peasants who live on her land.  She is also left with the decision of whether or not to drain the wetlands which provide homes and work for those under her care. When dashing Edmund Ashfield enters into the picture he woos Eleanor and they marry forcing Eleanor's property into Edmund's control. Unfortunately their marriage is not very passionate and this lack of passion pushes Eleanor into the arms of Edmund's charasmatic friend, Richard Glanville.

This story follows Eleanor's love life as well as her ground breaking accomplishments in the world of entomology for women.

My Thoughts: When I saw the cover of this book in the library and gave the back cover a quick read I figured this book was right down my historical fiction alley.  With a blurb from Alison Weir (author of "The Lady Elizabeth" which I enjoyed) I thought this book would grab me from the get-go but after 200+ pages I finally gave up.  I honestly hate giving up on a book.  I really feel bad doing it but when it becomes apparent that I'm forcing myself to read or *gasp* not wanting to pick up the book then I know it's time to call it quits.

This book had an interesting premise.  I loved that it involved the life of a real historical figure (a female scientist, no less!) but the story was extremely slow taking off.  More detail was put towards draining wetlands than pursuing the storyline or characters.  I think that this focus really caused me to lose interest in the book altogether.

Eleanor was a likeable enough main character but seemed a little too anachronistic which is probably why she wasn't embraced by the locals.  Without a doubt Eleanor is a woman ahead of her time. She is extremely curious and while women of the time were expected to be subservient, uneducated and demure ... Eleanor was none of these.  I liked that about Eleanor.  A little Girl Power in the 1600's! 

Unfortunately, I found Eleanor to be a hard character to figure out.  At times she comes off as too naive (appropriate since she was raised in such seclusion) but then she's head strong in other situations.  It just didn't jive with me and I never felt like I really knew her.  Then there's her 'romance' with Edmund.  This girl is so starved for attention and love that she immediately falls in love with literally the first man she spends any time with (not including her father and the creepy man who is entrusted to look after her following her father's death).  I think their relationship was supposed to be a whirlwind romance but I just didn't feel it.  Perhaps I'm dead inside.   It felt silly to me but I have to remind myself that it is the 1600's and this girl didn't have any experience in the romance department.  My point?  I just didn't get butterflies in m'belly reading about their romance.

I will admit that I'm in the minority with my review.  Most of the reviews that I've read were much more positive (I'm talking 4 to5 stars).  Should I have given the book another 100 pages?  Maybe.  But for now, I've set this book aside.  Unfortunately, descriptions of wetlands and the decision of whether to drain them or not took over the majority of the 200+ pages that I read.  I'm sure that Eleanor Glanville lead an interesting life ... I just wish there was less marshy descriptions involved in telling her story.

My Rating: 0/5 (I didn't finish it)

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